“Chain Reaction” was one of the earliest events on offer during the inaugural Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival—in fact it preceded the official opening. But I, as a booklover, was very happy to see that didn’t stop a big crowd turning up (in inclement weather, no less) for this six-launches-in-one event. After drinks and nibbles, Philippa Duffy (pictured) from University Book Shop opened proceedings and introduced the writers whose books were being launched—David Eggleton, Vincent O’Sullivan, Breton Dukes, Paddy Richardson, Owen Marshall, and David Howard.
Unfortunately, the night started on a somewhat sombre note. Kay McKenzie Cooke had been scheduled to also attend the event in order to launch her third poetry collection, Born to a Red Headed Woman. However her mother—the ‘red-headed woman’ of her collection’s title—very recently passed away. Rachel Scott from Otago University Press spoke on Kay’s behalf, and read “Family Tree” from her collection.
David Eggleton’s address was jovial and lively, in support of the latest issue of Landfall, going strong since 1947 and, in David’s words, “like Aorangi [Mt Cook]… a landmark” in Kiwi letters. Although themed around “vital signs”, Issue 227 sounds like quite a varied smorgasbord of delights (or as David put it, “a cabaret between covers”!). There’s poetry from 34 poets, an essay on the word ‘Solomon’, and a suite of paintings by Mark Braunias.
Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press then introduced Vincent O’Sullivan and Breton Dukes. Vincent spoke first, and quipped that, given that the writers stood on the mezzanine level of the venue while most of the crowd stood below, “this will the closest any of us will get to the Sermon on the Mount!” Then, while he was in the midst of thanking VUP and Fergus Barrowman for their support of his new short story collection The Families, his cellphone rang. Oops.
Breton Dukes read from his new book Empty Bones And Other Stories, which was the product of two years’ hard work. He described a short story as an immediate “transport system” to the experience or revelation of a character. He also described some of the stories in his collection. As a student, I was amused to hear there’s one about getting drunk and stealing a car from outside Poppa’s Pizza, the local pizza joint opposite the University’s main library. Nothing like a bit of local flavour!
Paddy Richardson also read from her new book, called Swimming in the Dark and published by Upstart Press. The passage she read, which detailed her German protagonist’s sense of displacement in New Zealand, was evocative and certainly held the audience’s attention.
Owen Marshall was there to launch Carnival Sky (Vintage). In particular, he singled out his long time editor Anna Rogers for thanks, as well as the Henderson Arts Trust, which granted him a residency in Alexandra that enabled him to finish Carnival Sky. (Incidentally, a significant portion of that novel is set in Alexandra.)
Finally David Howard read from his new chapbook The Speak House, which imagines the fevered thoughts and memories of Robert Louis Stevenson in the last hours of his life—what David described as Stevenson’s “mental disarray”.
All the speakers thanked the organisers of the DWRF for organising the event. Fergus Barrowman went a step further and thanked them for bringing the festival back, and foretold (hopefully correctly!) that the DWRF would be an important fixture in Dunedin’s calendar in the future. Hear hear!
Event reported by Febriani Idrus, freelance writer and student